Victoria Hand Project extends reach to help amputees and kids in Canada and the US

A University of Victoria initiative that provides 3D-printed prosthetic hands to amputees in seven developing countries around the world will now be able to extend its reach to help people in underserved and remote communities in Canada and the US.

This initiative led by Nick Dechev, UVic professor of mechanical engineering and executive director of the Victoria Hand Project (VHP), received a $1-million award by the 2019 TD Ready Challenge. UVic was one of ten 2019 grantees announced today by the TD Bank Group.

The new funding will enable the not-for-profit VHP to provide low-cost prosthetic hands to Canadian and American amputees, and also to initiate UVic research trials on new 3D-printed spinal braces designed to treat scoliosis (curvature of the spine) in children.

Over the next three years, the grant will fit 200 amputees with hand prostheses and 160 children with scoliosis braces. The funding will also enable VHP to build a network of partner prosthetic/orthotic clinics that will refer patients living in remote and underserved regions in North America.

“By leveraging new technologies and engineering design, along with our clinical partnerships, we are able to create health care technology that is accessible for many people who normally cannot afford this care,” says Dechev.

Since 2015, VHP has provided low-cost, 3D-printed prosthetic hands, primarily in developing countries, where access to prosthetic care is difficult and costly. The prosthesis helps amputees regain function, improving their quality of life and increasing their access to employment.

Dechev and VHP have begun testing a similar approach to developing a cost-effective 3D-printed scoliosis brace. It’s estimated that about three per cent of all children develop scoliosis—90 per cent of whom are female. About 10 per cent of these kids will require a scoliosis brace to halt the progress of their spine’s pronounced curve—approximately 17,600 children in Canada and the US. If not halted with early intervention, scoliosis can lead to pain, deformity, and potential heart and lung damage.

A conventional scoliosis brace is molded plastic made with a very labour-intensive process, and fits like a corset around a child’s torso. It may have to be worn for years and may require replacing as the child grows. Such braces are not covered by the healthcare system in Canada or the US, cost about $5,000 per device, and require replacement at least twice during years of growth. This makes conventional braces unaffordable for many families.

Dechev and VHP use advanced tools such as 3D scanning and 3D printing to develop a customized brace that costs about $150 in materials and can be adjusted and reprinted in clinics with ease. Dechev says that, compared to a traditional brace, the 3D-printed version takes about 10 per cent of the time to create, weighs about half as much and is much more breathable.

“Scoliosis is an extremely common diagnosis affecting two to three per cent of the world’s population. This project is an amazing opportunity to raise the standard of scoliosis care for people in Canada and the US who live in communities that are currently underserved by specialized orthotics care and who are not able to afford the more expensive corrective devices to treat curvature of the spine,” says Dr. Brent Weatherhead, orthopedic surgeon and Island Health’s head of pediatric surgery.

“The Victoria Hand Project is an example of a scalable solution that will help increase equitable health outcomes for more children in Canada and the US,” says Andrea Barrack, Global Head, Sustainability and Corporate Citizenship, TD Bank Group. “Being a winner of the TD Ready Challenge is a testament to the skill, ingenuity and vision of its creators, as well as their dedication to improving the health of their communities and opening doors to a more inclusive tomorrow.”

The 2019 TD Ready Challenge encouraged organizations across North America to create innovative, high-impact health solutions for those who need them the most. In total, TD awarded $10 million for this year’s challenge. TD targets $1 billion in total by 2030 towards community-giving in four areas—health, financial security, a more vibrant planet and connected communities.